IBM Personal Computing
Donald B. Trivette
Diary Of A Home Application
Few of us appreciate how much time and effort goes into successful software. This month we're going to take an inside look at one of today's best-selling home programs for IBM computers—Andrew Tobias' Managing Your Money.
September 1982. Micro Education Corporation of America (MECA) looks for ways to enter the lucrative personal computer market. A market survey and analysis shows that home users are interested in financial software. MECA decides to develop a tutorial-type financial program for the Atari and to employ a "big name" to promote the product. Louis Rukeyser of Wall Street Week is contacted; he graciously declines. Another proposal goes to syndicated columnist Sylvia Porter; no reply is received. MECA looks for another name.
December 1982. Andrew Tobias, author of the best-selling book The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need, agrees to provide his name and guidance—for a percentage. (He too almost missed out when his agent, unaware of the potential profits, neglected to return MECA's calls. Eventually MECA contacted Tobias directly.)
Tobias and Jerry Rubin, the master programmer/designer and president of MECA, meet to discuss possibilities. They decide to develop the product for the IBM PC, which seems to be gaining momentum in the market. The program begins to evolve from the initial concept of a tutorial with cartoon characters and balloons of text to a more serious program that can be used to plan and record financial transactions.
Steve Wagar, a recent Yale computer science graduate, begins writing a special computer language called SEESAW (System Elegantly Enmeshing Screens And Worksheets) in which MYM will be programmed. Spencer Martin, taking a year off between high school and college to swim in the Olympic trials, joins the programming team. So does Jim Russell, a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Summer 1983. Rubin gleefully demonstrates a screen to Tobias, who, knowing nothing about computers and programming, fails to appreciate its significance. "My God," he thinks, "six months and all we've got is one or two screens where I can type my name and a few numbers."
Fall 1983. The project is far enough along so that Tobias, using a WordStar interface to SEESAW, can write the help screens and compose the program's text—a job that eventually takes six months.
January 1, 1984. The goal for the release of MYM slips by while initial product testing begins in Westport, Connecticut. A group of 20 people—some experienced computer users, some not—are given copies to take home. Later they are invited to headquarters for a debriefing while Rubin, Tobias, and others watch tensely through a one-way mirror, suppressing the urge to pound on the wall and yell, "No, you idiot, not that key, the other key!"
MYM takes shape as an integrated financial program with nine sections or chapters. Chapter 1 is for new users who know nothing about computers; Chapter 2 is a reminder pad; Chapter 3 is a budget and checkbook; Chapter 4 is an income tax estimator; Chapter 5 is for insurance planning; Chapter 6 is a calculator; Chapter 7 is a portfolio manager; Chapter 8 is a net worth summary combining data from the other chapters; and Chapter 9 is a comprehensive index.
March 19, 1984. Tobias appears on the Today show to introduce MYM and the first 300 copies are shipped to dealers. A bug is uncovered and MECA replaces all 300 copies at its own expense. Another bug is uncovered and 500 copies are replaced. A WATS line with 12 customer support people is set up to answer questions and help users. MECA continues to improve MYM and to provide free updates to registered owners.
Summer 1984-Spring 1985. Tobias travels more than 60,000 miles promoting MYM in software stores, at trade associations, and on radio and TV talk shows. The program gets good reviews and IBM markets a cartridge version for the PCjr.
Summer 1985. Starting with a wish list compiled from customer suggestions, MECA begins work on version 2.0—a major update. Rubin, Martin, Russell, and four new programmers add 75 enhancements. Rubin and Russell spend weeks on an option to make the fiscal year different from the calendar year; Tobias writes an expanded 15,000-word manual. MECA engages a software-testing company which generates more than 120 Trouble Reports that ultimately have one of three resolutions: Already Fixed; To Be Fixed; and Not a Bug After All. The testing costs more than $50,000.
October 1985. Andrew Tobias' Managing Your Money version 2.0 ships to dealers. Current owners who signed up for the newsletter and warranty plan ($40/year) receive the update free. Other registered owners can purchase the update for $50.
(MYM 2.0 lists for $199.95 and requires an IBM PC or compatible with two disk drives and at least 192K of RAM; IBM markets version 1.0 in cartridge form for the Enhanced Model PCjr at the same price. MECA, 285 Riverside Avenue, Westport, CT 06880.)